Bunion Care 101: Do Bunion Protectors Correct Joint Deformity?

June 4, 2021
bunion protectors

As much as you want to fight through the pain, bunions are hard to ignore. But bunion protectors exist for a reason—to relieve the crippling pain caused by the bony bump beside the base of your big toe. 

Bunions are not simple joint pains you can treat with ointments or through a massage. It may look like only a bump, but it is capable of restricting basic activities such as standing or walking. Needless to say, that regular-sized lump can get in the way of your daily life!

Fortunately, a simple device exists to help you with your problems. We know what you’re thinking, “Do bunion protectors actually work?” Can it correct the joint deformity or get rid of that irritating bony lump? This article will teach you more about bunions, and how exactly these protection products function.

What Are Bunions?

Hallux valgus. This is the Latin name for bunions. Merriam-Webster defines Hallux as the big toe, and valgus means “turned outward away from the body's midline to an abnormal degree”. Here is the comparison between a healthy foot and a foot with a bunion:

normal foot vs. foot with a bunion
Source: National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), U.S. National Library of Medicine

By the looks of it, you can already tell that it is painful. This abnormal misalignment of the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint is progressive, and it worsens over time if not treated immediately. 

There are two other types of bunions:

Bunionette: Also called a "tailor's bunion." Bunionettes develop at the base of the fifth toe, and they are relatively smaller in size than a bunion. You will feel the same pain nonetheless.
Adolescent bunion: They say bunions are familiar to older people. But teens between ages 10–15 can also develop what is called an adolescent bunion.

Who Can Get Bunions?

Wearing shoes with narrow toes can be a contributing factor, but it is not the leading cause. Although this may be the reason why women are more prone to bunions than men. Plus, NCBI explains that women have weaker connective tissue in their feet. It doesn't help that some women like to wear high-heeled shoes, especially at work or in formal functions. Besides gender, it has something to do with age because as we get older, the foot's connective tissue gets thinner, and the big toe's joint gets more brittle.

Another possible cause is inherited foot type. Yup, it is in the genes. If someone in your family has dealt with bunions, you will probably suffer from it too. In addition, it may be linked to diseases or medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, polio, short calf muscles, or a short Achilles tendon. 
Muscle imbalance is another reason for bunion development. This condition occurs when your natural gait slightly shifts due to very weak or tight muscles. Dr. Houman Danesh, MD of The Mount Sinai Hospital, explains this in his interview with TheHealthy.

How to Know that You Have a Bunion

Mild bunions are not noticeable at first as they don’t hurt that much. But a tell-tale sign that it is getting worse are the muscle spasms in the particular area where a bump is forming. You may also experience back and knee discomfort, especially when you stand or walk.

Besides muscle spasms, here are the symptoms of a bunion according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:

  • Pain and soreness
  • Redness in the affected area
  • Calloused skin on the bottom of the foot and the bump
  • A stiff big toe; enough that you can’t move it

But the most certain way to find out if that lump on the side of your big toe is a bunion is to seek medical attention. A podiatrist will perform a physical examination on the affected foot and order an x-ray to have a more precise diagnosis of how severe the deformity of your big toe is.

3 Ways to Get Rid of Bunions

That hard bump on your big toe will become impossible to ignore and may later affect your daily life. Never underestimate the MTP joint. How important is this tiny joint? Harvard Health Publishing says the "MTP joint helps us bear and distribute weight during a range of activities." It helps balance our body and controls our gait and locomotor movement. 

Other than that, a bunion can harm the toes next to it. Based on the illustration above, a big toe with a bunion pushes other toes to the point of bending; this may form hammertoes. You may also be burdened by ingrown nails, calluses, and soreness on the ball of the foot.

There are a few ways to get rid of this pain. Put an end to your suffering by doing the following:

Change of lifestyle

Or rather change of footwear choices. Wear a shoe with enough room for your precious toes, especially for the big and pinky toe. For women, lessen wearing high heels as much as possible, or slip them on for special occasions only.

Prevent muscle imbalance by exercising your feet to avoid getting bunions. Healthline suggests doing toe points and curls, ball rolls, and heel raises as exercises.

Non-surgical treatments

If there is already a developing bunion, bunion protectors, toe spacers, bunion pads, and bunion splints can help your toes realign or can help manage the pain. A podiatrist may recommend using over-the-counter orthotics to relieve the pressure created by bunions. 

Another conservative treatment that provides temporary pain relief is taking aspirin, naproxen, and ibuprofen. For a home remedy, you can apply an ice pack to the bunion to reduce the redness and pain. You can do this several times a day, and each application should last for 20 minutes only.

Surgical treatment

Unfortunately, you’ll need to go under the knife for some cases of bunions. Surgery is necessary when the bony bump intervenes with your everyday activities. This surgical procedure aims to get rid of the lump and correct the deformity. Expect to be immobile for months or a year to recover fully.

A Word About Bunion Protectors

Let's go back to our previous question: are bunion protectors for shoes effective? Bunion protectors are often used interchangeably with bunion correctors, bunion separators, or bunion splints. But there are differences: bunion separators and correctors can be classified as bunion protectors. But a bunion protector is different from the two because it can only protect the bunion and not separate it. 

What do bunion protectors do? As the name implies, it protects a bunion from rubbing against the inside of the shoe. Thus, it relieves the pain and inflammation of the affected area. It doesn't get rid of bunions, in any case. Specifically, it cannot get rid of severe cases where you can't even step your foot on the floor.
This type of non-surgical treatment is only suitable for mild bunions. Keep in mind that it provides temporary pain relief even though you purchase the best bunion protectors in the market. MedicineNet confirms that the only way to alter or correct a bunion structure is through surgery. So don't get your hopes too high when buying a bunion protector cushion.

In Closing

Get your everyday life back by wearing bunion protectors at the early stages of bunion development. As they say, the best cure is prevention. In the case of bunions, it’s a lot easier to wear uncomfortable bunion protectors for shoes than going through surgery where you can't walk for months. Combine these bunion protectors with proper exercise, a healthy lifestyle, and wearing comfy footwear to make sure that you don’t put too much stress on your toes and to keep the muscles on your feet strong.

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